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2nd Democracy Summit: Will African, Media Houses, and Press Freedom in Africa Benefit?

By Pearl Matibe

The United States will co-host the Second Democracy Summit 2023 with the governments of Costa Rica, the Netherlands, Republic of Korea, and Republic of Zambia from the 29th to 30th of March, 2023.

A senior Biden-Harris Administration official confirmed on February 2, this year, that “there is not a U.S. gov-hosted session that features journalists as plenary speakers.” It’s expected that the Netherlands will host aspects related to the global media environment, and the concerns of civil society, and press freedom advocates.

On February 17, a State Department spokesperson, speaking on U.S. President Joseph Biden’s Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal said, “At the first Summit for Democracy in December 2021, President Biden announced the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal (PIDR)—an initiative that devotes $424.4 million toward five lines of effort: supporting free and independent media; fighting corruption; bolstering democratic reformers; advancing technology for democracy; and defending free and fair elections and political processes.  In addition, the State Department announced a range of complementary initiatives in support of these efforts.”  

The State Department elaborated further, expounding on the initiative’s details, it said, “Under the PIDR, the U.S. Department of State committed up to $3.5 million to establish the Journalism Protection Platform (JPP), which will promote and protect open and resilient information cosystems by: addressing critical needs for at-risk journalists, fostering long-term sustainability of independent media outlets, enhancing the impact of investigative journalism, and bolstering outlets’ resilience to legal and regulatory challenges.

The U.S. Department of State’s JPP is one of many crucial efforts supported by the United States to bolster independent media and protect journalists physically, digitally, and legally.”

According to the State Department, the programs pledged by President Biden are aimed at benefitting, “journalists, media practitioners, and other actors in the media environment outside of the United States.

The JPP is in its early stages of development; the Department of State looks forward to working with partners to advance the objectives of the Platform through targeted programs.” 

Additional efforts to benefit journalists are administered through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). In explaining how USAID has made progress, the USAID spokesperson confirmed they have, “made notable progress in standing up a series of programs under the PIDR.”

Furthermore, some of the elements the spokesperson highlighted are that, “Through USAID’s Media Viability Accelerator (MVA), we are supporting the creation of a data platform that will enable media outlets to better understand the markets, audiences, and strategies that will maximize their odds of profitability and provide donors with market data and financial strategies to ensure their support to media is sustainable. It will include an online platform that will help media compete more effectively for audiences and revenues by learning from the performance of peers globally and participating in a marketplace of those that can help.”

USAID says, “The multilingual tool will visualize media performance data in user-friendly, rich graphics and benchmarks. It will also generate actionable daily and weekly alerts based on thousands of market and media sources.

As a result, media outlets using the MVA will become better informed about themselves, better equipped to adapt to market changes, and better known to organizations which can assist with their work. The online portal is being designed in collaboration with a private sector technology partner, which we plan to announce at the Summit for Democracy.”

Media houses and journalists have the right to press freedom. One of the rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is press freedom. To this notion, Southern Africa made a notable contribution to global press freedom with the signing of the Windhoek Declaration signed and adopted in Namibia.

This Declaration is held in high regard as a landmark achievement aimed at “ensuring press freedom around the world,” including in Africa, according to the United Nations body, UNESCO.

Sadly, despite these initiatives, many African journalists in desperate need of support, who have faced an ever diminishing freedom in the media space, do not benefit from these programs, according to non-partisan, civil society organizations advocating for journalism, and journalist victims in authoritarian environments.

It remains to be seen, if the Second Democracy Summit will deliver tangible, sustainable outcomes to African beneficiaries, but Biden-Harris Administration officials promise more Summit details will be forthcoming soon. Either way, African journalists and media houses lag far behind the rest of the world, at a time Western democracies seek greater understanding and partnerships with Africa.

Pearl Matibe is a Washington, DC-based foreign correspondent, and media commentator with expertise on U.S. foreign policy and international security. You may follow her on Twitter: @PearlMatibe

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